A lawsuit filed on Sept. 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan claims that the city’s adult-use cannabis ordinance is unfair to longstanding city residents. The lawsuit comes from plaintiffs Arden Kassab, who owns multiple medical cannabis dispensaries in Detroit, and PharmaCo.
In June 2021, a lawsuit concluded with an opinion from U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman stating that the city of Detroit’s process of obtaining an adult-use cannabis license was “unconstitutional” and “gives an unfair, irrational and likely unconstitutional advantage to long-term Detroit residents over all other applicants.” The most recent lawsuit claims that “…Detroit has essentially rebranded the ‘legacy’ program’ as a ‘social equity’ program.”
The result of that case caused a delay in the processing of recreational cannabis applications, and the city revised the rules later that year in November 2021.
However, the newest lawsuit claims that the revised ordinance did not solve the problems. “While Detroit alleges that its new cannabis ordinance cures the constitutional deficiencies found by Judge Friedman, the … (ordinance) remains ‘far more protectionist than it is equitable,’” the new lawsuit states, quoting Judge Friedman’s original statement from 2021.
According to the Detroit Free Press, one example was provided to illustrate the issues with the ordinance in its current form. Plaintiff Arden Kassab lived in Pontiac for “many years,” which is an area that is both negatively affected by the War on Drugs, and they also have a cannabis conviction. However, Kassab no longer lives in Pontiac and no longer qualifies under the current rules.
Similarly, plaintiff PharmaCo (a subsidiary of Red White & Bloom) can’t currently obtain a recreational license because “it must divest itself of substantial real property or business ownership interests in order to obtain social-equity points needed to compete,” the Detroit Free Press states.
The revised ordinance set aside half of the licenses to be reserved for “equity applicants,” such as those who are current residents in the city, as well as those who live in specific areas of Michigan that have higher cannabis convictions, and also where 20% of the population lives below the poverty line, according to federal standards. Previously, the ordinance reserved half of the licenses for “legacy Detroiters,” or people who have been residents in Detroit for a specific amount of time.
Although Michigan legalized recreational cannabis in November 2018, the city of Detroit didn’t approve adult-use sales until November 2020. The first lawsuit arrived less than one year later in June, followed by the revision release in November 2021. The ordinance took effect in April 2022, but in May a new lawsuit (from House of Dank) emerged to address concerns about conflicts with state law. Another lawsuit (from JARS Cannabis) arrived in June claiming that the ordinance violated state law.
By August, both of the lawsuits were dismissed. On Aug. 30, Wayne County Judge Leslie Kim Smith wrote in an opinion stating that the ordinance was fair. “Although the city’s 2022 marijuana ordinance is a complicated scheme, it is unambiguous and provides a fair licensing process, which comports with the mandates of the MRTMA [Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act],” Smith wrote.
Applications for adult-use licenses opened on Sept. 1, 2022 and closes on Oct. 8. In a statement, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan expressed his confidence in the ordinance. “We are going to make sure there is equity in this process for Detroiters.”
Likewise, City Council President Pro Tem James Tate told CBS News Detroit in early September that the process has been lengthy, but the ordinance is fair. “Getting to this point has been an overly protracted process dating back to 2020 when the first ordinance was unanimously approved by Detroit City Council,” said Tate. “Now with the lawsuits and the failed ballot initiatives seeking to overturn our ordinance behind us, Detroiters and other equity applicants will have a fair opportunity to compete for adult-use licenses in a city that welcomes all to participate in the multi-million-dollar adult-use cannabis industry.”
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